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Ellie Duke

I run around the park once, sometimes twice, to simulate a feeling of accomplishment, but know my body was made for something more; it was built to climb mountains, bear children, make love, jump from cliffs into pools of silky black water, sing.

I read incessantly, but am too aware of the limits of language, the fraudulence of words. I can never think of anything worthwhile to say. Bridging the cavernous gaps of language has become my life’s work, I often think, but perhaps I’m too young to make such brazen declarations.

I dream of a garden. Thumbs of different sizes and colors, some wrinkled and weathered, some pink with newness, grow straight up out of the sand like cactuses and wiggle expectantly. There are ones with ragged nails yellowed by fungus, and some are painted with a shiny varnish. I keep this dream to myself, because I’ve been trained to believe that no one is interested.

I have a crush on a shy boy with carpal tunnel syndrome and deep-set eyes. I don’t believe he could love me, and some part of me doesn’t believe I could love him either. Of course, it’s possible to love anyone, with enough practice.

I have notebooks stacked in neat, chronological piles full of thoughts and ideas from my youth, which I feel is ending, though the note-taking persists. Always in the back of my mind is the faint dread of my imminent death: the knowledge that if I die tomorrow, my friends and family will read through my journals, seeking a scrap of my soul, a shred of my presence. Part of me wants to burn them all, like Willa Cather did, to preempt this inevitable intrusion. But I put it off, day by day, believing I’ll stay alive at least a little longer.

I experience clarity in brief, fleeting moments. When I jump from forward fold into chaturanga with a measured exhale. When I soft boil an egg just right, so the yolk is hot and slow and the white is firm. When my stomach ache subsides for a few moments between meals.

I have begun to think of partnership as a kind of double-solitude. The illusion of oneness is fading as I get older, as I grow to know myself more and the people around me less. Someone once told me, no one can be everything, and I believed her; it felt true. But I know now that she was wrong, and that things that sound true are not always so.

I am a Viking queen, standing on the prow of a massive wooden ship. We navigate around icebergs, float in a cold cerulean sea. The water’s surface shimmers, serene, and just beneath it churns and roils. I look down into the icy seethe and stretch my arms out to my sides; my velvet robes swell around me, and I dive in.